IT'S a common refrain among actors that performing comedy is more difficult than drama. For the cast of East-West Productions' upcoming show, "Lend Me a Tenor," the sentiment is very true.
"You're kind of waiting for that first laugh," says New Zealand native Daniel Cotterall who plays the star tenor, Tito. "Sometimes it takes a long time. The longer it takes, the worse it gets."
Laughs should be aplenty in the group's production of Ken Ludwig's Tony Award-winning comedy. The show follows the exploits of the outrageous characters at an opera house dealing with a crisis when Tito passes out early in the play after accidentally taking tranquilizers.
What follows is a series of misadventures: mistaken identity, people jumping in and out of doors and general goofiness. For the actors, the key to performing in such a boldly comic piece is to keep one foot grounded in reality. First performed in 1986 on the West End and later on Broadway, it's a 1930s-style screwball comedy - in this production, it's set in the 1970s to make it more fun.
"As a farce, the play incorporates a lot of different types of comedy," says Lexi Kailteis, performance director of the interactive art group, island 6, at M50. She plays the role of Diana, a soprano, in the play.
The Salzburg, Austria, native adds, "There's physical comedy and really smart comedic lines that are all about timing. The characters have certain stock personalities but they're still complex in their different ways. The key as an actor is to still bring in the emotional aspects to the character and not just play to the comedy."
The biggest role in "Lend Me a Tenor" is the opera's assistant Max, played by Owen Bell, a North English native. The meek character is roped into performing in the opera, standing in for the passed-out star tenor once his boss realizes his gift for singing. While he may have most of the lines, Bell observes that his character isn't the typical leading man.
"There's no real thought behind the character because he starts off as this geek nerd that's trampled on by his girlfriend and his boss," Bell says. "In the past, I've played seedy journalists and pervy doctors, characters that have real grounding, whereas Max is really reacting completely. It's probably the weakest character I've played but his development throughout the show is interesting."
Bell, a speech teacher, will be stepping into a role that was played by Justin Bartha, one of the stars of the hit American comedy film "The Hangover," in a 2010 Broadway production of "Lend Me a Tenor." That show featured an all-star cast that included several Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award nominees.
It's a testament to the play's enduring legacy. First performed in 1986, the show has been translated into 16 languages and performed in more than 25 countries.
For the Shanghai show's director, Dave Earl, it's been a project that he's been pursuing for years. The show will run over two weekends starting on April 12 at the Downstream Garage but will feature a twist. While the original is set in the 1930s, Earl has decided to update the time period to the 1970s.
"I wanted it to be visually stimulating as well as comedically stimulating," the British native explains. "We wanted to have some fun with the costumes and the hair, so hopefully that will add to the overall effect."
The show will kick off a busy April in Shanghai's theater scene. British physical theater group Idle Motion will be performing their tribute to female aviation, "The Vanishing Horizon," this weekend at the Lyceum Theater (57 Maoming Rd S.). Later in the month, Urban Aphrodite will be putting on their adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize nominated one-person play, "Thom Pain" (based on nothing) at Sasha's (11 Dongping Rd) and TNT Theatre will be doing Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew "at the Lyceum Theater.
Despite all of the theater options, the cast for "Lend Me a Tenor" sees that growth as only a good thing. "It feeds itself. The more theater things that are happening in town, the more it seems normal to go to the theater," says Andra Davis, an English teacher.
While Davis was an amateur theater veteran in her native Canada, many of the show's cast remembers when East-West Productions was the only group of its kind in Shanghai a few years ago.
"Amateur theater is kind of amazing," says Cotterall who is a management trainer. "You get a bunch of people together for several weeks and they're not earning any money, they do it because of love of theater. It's amazing when you bring the right talents and intentions together. We have a lot of fun together and hopefully the audience will, too."
Date: April 12-14, 17-20, 8pm
Address: 3/F, Bldg 100, 200 Longcao Rd
Tickets: Donation only, 150 yuan suggestedFor more information, check eastwesttheatre.com